The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Ghetto, and Other Poems

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Title: The Ghetto, and Other Poems

Author: Lola Ridge

Release date: August 1, 2003 [eBook #4332]
Most recently updated: August 17, 2012

Language: English


Produced by Catherine Daly

  The Ghetto
  Lola Ridge


  Will you feast with me, American People?
  But what have I that shall seem good to you!

  On my board are bitter apples
  And honey served on thorns,
  And in my flagons fluid iron,
  Hot from the crucibles.

How should such fare entice you!


  The Ghetto
  Bowery Afternoon
  The Fog
  The Song of Iron
  Frank Little at Calvary
  The Legion of Iron
  A Toast
  "The Everlasting Return,"
  The Song
  To the Others
  The Fiddler
  Dawn Wind
  North Wind
  The Destroyer
  The Foundling
  The Woman with Jewels
  Art and Life
  Brooklyn Bridge
  The Fire
  A Memory
  The Edge
  The Garden
  A Worn Rose
  Iron Wine
  The Star
  The Tidings

The larger part of the poem entitled "The Ghetto" appeared originally in
THE NEW REPUBLIC and some of poems were printed in THE INTERNATIONAL,
OTHERS, POETRY, etc. To the editors who first published the poems the
author makes due acknowledgment.



  Cool, inaccessible air
  Is floating in velvety blackness shot with steel-blue lights,
  But no breath stirs the heat
  Leaning its ponderous bulk upon the Ghetto
  And most on Hester street…

  The heat…
  Nosing in the body's overflow,
  Like a beast pressing its great steaming belly close,
  Covering all avenues of air…

  The heat in Hester street,
  Heaped like a dray
  With the garbage of the world.

  Bodies dangle from the fire escapes
  Or sprawl over the stoops…
  Upturned faces glimmer pallidly—
  Herring-yellow faces, spotted as with a mold,
  And moist faces of girls
  Like dank white lilies,
  And infants' faces with open parched mouths that suck at the air
       as at empty teats.

  Young women pass in groups,
  Converging to the forums and meeting halls,
  Surging indomitable, slow
  Through the gross underbrush of heat.
  Their heads are uncovered to the stars,
  And they call to the young men and to one another
  With a free camaraderie.
  Only their eyes are ancient and alone…

  The street crawls undulant,
  Like a river addled
  With its hot tide of flesh
  That ever thickens.
  Heavy surges of flesh
  Break over the pavements,
  Clavering like a surf—
  Flesh of this abiding
  Brood of those ancient mothers who saw the dawn break over Egypt…
  And turned their cakes upon the dry hot stones
  And went on
  Till the gold of the Egyptians fell down off their arms…
  Fasting and athirst…
  And yet on…

  Did they vision—with those eyes darkly clear,
  That looked the sun in the face and were not blinded—
  Across the centuries
  The march of their enduring flesh?
  Did they hear—
  Under the molten silence
  Of the desert like a stopped wheel—
  (And the scorpions tick-ticking on the sand…)
  The infinite procession of those feet?


  I room at Sodos'—in the little green room that was Bennie's—
  With Sadie
  And her old father and her mother,
  Who is not so old and wears her own hair.

  Old Sodos no longer makes saddles.
  He has forgotten how.
  He has forgotten most things—even Bennie who stays away
       and sends wine on holidays—
  And he does not like Sadie's mother
  Who hides God's candles,
  Nor Sadie
  Whose young pagan breath puts out the light—
  That should burn always,
  Like Aaron's before the Lord.

  Time spins like a crazy dial in his brain,
  And night by night
  I see the love-gesture of his arm
  In its green-greasy coat-sleeve
  Circling the Book,
  And the candles gleaming starkly
  On the blotched-paper whiteness of his face,
  Like a miswritten psalm…
  Night by night
  I hear his lifted praise,
  Like a broken whinnying
  Before the Lord's shut gate.

  Sadie dresses in black.
  She has black-wet hair full of cold lights
  And a fine-drawn face, too white.
  All day the power machines
  Drone in her ears…
  All day the fine dust flies
  Till throats are parched and itch
  And the heat—like a kept corpse—
  Fouls to the last corner.

  Then—when needles move more slowly on the cloth
  And sweaty fingers slacken
  And hair falls in damp wisps over the eyes—
  Sped by some power within,
  Sadie quivers like a rod…
  A thin black piston flying,
  One with her machine.

  She—who stabs the piece-work with her bitter eye
  And bids the girls: "Slow down—
  You'll have him cutting us again!"
  She—fiery static atom,
  Held in place by the fierce pressure all about—
  Speeds up the driven wheels
  And biting steel—that twice
  Has nipped her to the bone.

  Nights, she reads
  Those books that have most unset thought,
  New-poured and malleable,
  To which her thought
  Leaps fusing at white heat,
  Or spits her fire out in some dim manger of a hall,
  Or at a protest meeting on the Square,
  Her lit eyes kindling the mob…
  Or dances madly at a festival.
  Each dawn finds her a little whiter,
  Though up and keyed to the long day,
  Alert, yet weary… like a bird
  That all night long has beat about a light.

  The Gentile lover, that she charms and shrews,
  Is one more pebble in the pack
  For Sadie's mother,
  Who greets him with her narrowed eyes
  That hold some welcome back.
  "What's to be done?" she'll say,
  "When Sadie wants she takes…
  Better than Bennie with his Christian woman…
  A man is not so like,
  If they should fight,
  To call her Jew…"

  Yet when she lies in bed
  And the soft babble of their talk comes to her
  And the silences…
  I know she never sleeps
  Till the keen draught blowing up the empty hall
  Edges through her transom
  And she hears his foot on the first stairs.

  Sarah and Anna live on the floor above.
  Sarah is swarthy and ill-dressed.
  Life for her has no ritual.
  She would break an ideal like an egg for the winged thing at the core.
  Her mind is hard and brilliant and cutting like an acetylene torch.
  If any impurities drift there, they must be burnt up as in a clear flame.
  It is droll that she should work in a pants factory.
  —Yet where else… tousled and collar awry at her olive throat.
  Besides her hands are unkempt.
  With English… and everything… there is so little time.
  She reads without bias—
  Doubting clamorously—
  Psychology, plays, science, philosophies—
  Those giant flowers that have bloomed and withered, scattering their seed…
  —And out of this young forcing soil what growth may come—
       what amazing blossomings.

  Anna is different.
  One is always aware of Anna, and the young men turn their heads
       to look at her.
  She has the appeal of a folk-song
  And her cheap clothes are always in rhythm.
  When the strike was on she gave half her pay.
  She would give anything—save the praise that is hers
  And the love of her lyric body.

  But Sarah's desire covets nothing apart.
  She would share all things…
  Even her lover.


  The sturdy Ghetto children
  March by the parade,
  Waving their toy flags,
  Prancing to the bugles—
  Lusty, unafraid…
  Shaking little fire sticks
  At the night—
  The old blinking night—
  Swerving out of the way,
  Wrapped in her darkness like a shawl.

  But a small girl
  Cowers apart.
  Her braided head,
  Shiny as a black-bird's
  In the gleam of the torch-light,
  Is poised as for flight.
  Her eyes have the glow
  Of darkened lights.

  She stammers in Yiddish,
  But I do not understand,
  And there flits across her face
  A shadow
  As of a drawn blind.
  I give her an orange,
  Large and golden,
  And she looks at it blankly.
  I take her little cold hand and try to draw her to me,
  But she is stiff…
  Like a doll…

  Suddenly she darts through the crowd
  Like a little white panic
  Blown along the night—
  Away from the terror of oncoming feet…
  And drums rattling like curses in red roaring mouths…
  And torches spluttering silver fire
  And lights that nose out hiding-places…
  To the night—
  Squatting like a hunchback
  Under the curved stoop—
  The old mammy-night
  That has outlived beauty and knows the ways of fear—
  The night—wide-opening crooked and comforting arms,
  Hiding her as in a voluminous skirt.

  The sturdy Ghetto children
  March by the parade,
  Waving their toy flags,
  Prancing to the bugles,
  Lusty, unafraid.
  But I see a white frock
  And eyes like hooded lights
  Out of the shadow of pogroms
  Watching… watching…


  Calicoes and furs,
  Pocket-books and scarfs,
  Razor strops and knives
  (Patterns in check…)

  Olive hands and russet head,
  Pickles red and coppery,
  Green pickles, brown pickles,
  (Patterns in tapestry…)

  Coral beads, blue beads,
  Beads of pearl and amber,
  Gewgaws, beauty pins—
  Bijoutry for chits—
  Darting rays of violet,
  Amethyst and jade…
  All the colors out to play,
  Jumbled iridescently…
  (Patterns in stained glass
  Shivered into bits!)

  Nooses of gay ribbon
  Tugging at one's sleeve,
  Dainty little garters
  Hanging out their sign…
  Here a pout of frilly things—
  There a sonsy feather…
  (White beards, black beards
  Like knots in the weave…)

  And ah, the little babies—
  Shiny black-eyed babies—
  (Half a million pink toes
  Wriggling altogether.)
  Baskets full of babies
  Like grapes on a vine.

  Mothers waddling in and out,
  Making all things right—
  Picking up the slipped threads
  In Grand street at night—
  Grand street like a great bazaar,
  Crowded like a float,
  Bulging like a crazy quilt
  Stretched on a line.

  But nearer seen
  This litter of the East
  Takes on a garbled majesty.

  The herded stalls
  In dissolute array…
  The glitter and the jumbled finery
  And strangely juxtaposed
  Cans, paper, rags
  And colors decomposing,
  Faded like old hair,
  With flashes of barbaric hues
  And eyes of mystery…
  Like an ancient tapestry of motley weave
  Upon the open wall of this new land.

  Here, a tawny-headed girl…
  Lemons in a greenish broth
  And a huge earthen bowl
  By a bronzed merchant
  With a tall black lamb's wool cap upon his head…
  He has no glance for her.
  His thrifty eyes
  Bend—glittering, intent
  Their hoarded looks
  Upon his merchandise,
  As though it were some splendid cloth
  Or sumptuous raiment
  Stitched in gold and red…

  He seldom talks
  Save of the goods he spreads—
  The meager cotton with its dismal flower—
  But with his skinny hands
  That hover like two hawks
  Above some luscious meat,
  He fingers lovingly each calico,
  As though it were a gorgeous shawl,
  Or costly vesture
  Wrought in silken thread,
  Or strange bright carpet
  Made for sandaled feet…

  Here an old grey scholar stands.
  His brooding eyes—
  That hold long vistas without end
  Of caravans and trees and roads,
  And cities dwindling in remembrance—
  Bend mostly on his tapes and thread.

  What if they tweak his beard—
  These raw young seed of Israel
  Who have no backward vision in their eyes—
  And mock him as he sways
  Above the sunken arches of his feet—
  They find no peg to hang their taunts upon.
  His soul is like a rock
  That bears a front worn smooth
  By the coarse friction of the sea,
  And, unperturbed, he keeps his bitter peace.

  What if a rigid arm and stuffed blue shape,
  Backed by a nickel star
  Does prod him on,
  Taking his proud patience for humility…
  All gutters are as one
  To that old race that has been thrust
  From off the curbstones of the world…
  And he smiles with the pale irony
  Of one who holds
  The wisdom of the Talmud stored away
  In his mind's lavender.

  But this young trader,
  Born to trade as to a caul,
  Peddles the notions of the hour.
  The gestures of the craft are his
  And all the lore
  As when to hold, withdraw, persuade, advance…
  And be it gum or flags,
  Or clean-all or the newest thing in tags,
  Demand goes to him as the bee to flower.
  And he—appraising
  All who come and go
  With his amazing
  Slight-of-mind and glance
  And nimble thought
  And nature balanced like the scales at nought—
  Looks Westward where the trade-lights glow,
  And sees his vision rise—
  A tape-ruled vision,
  Circumscribed in stone—
  Some fifty stories to the skies.


  As I sit in my little fifth-floor room—
  Save for bed and chair,
  And coppery stains
  Left by seeping rains
  On the low ceiling
  And green plaster walls,
  Where when night falls
  Golden lady-bugs
  Come out of their holes,
  And roaches, sepia-brown, consort…
  I hear bells pealing
  Out of the gray church at Rutgers street,
  Holding its high-flung cross above the Ghetto,
  And, one floor down across the court,
  The parrot screaming:
  Vorwärts… Vorwärts…

  The parrot frowsy-white,
  Everlastingly swinging
  On its iron bar.

  A little old woman,
  With a wig of smooth black hair
  Gummed about her shrunken brows,
  Comes sometimes on the fire escape.
  An old stooped mother,
  The left shoulder low
  With that uneven droopiness that women know
  Who have suckled many young…
  Yet I have seen no other than the parrot there.

  I watch her mornings as she shakes her rugs
  Feebly, with futile reach
  And fingers without clutch.
  Her thews are slack
  And curved the ruined back
  And flesh empurpled like old meat,
  Yet each conspires
  To feed those guttering fires
  With which her eyes are quick.

  On Friday nights
  Her candles signal
  Infinite fine rays
  To other windows,
  Coupling other lights,
  Linking the tenements
  Like an endless prayer.

  She seems less lonely than the bird
  That day by day about the dismal house
  Screams out his frenzied word…
  That night by night—
  If a dog yelps
  Or a cat yawls
  Or a sick child whines,
  Or a door screaks on its hinges,
  Or a man and woman fight—
  Sends his cry above the huddled roofs:
  Vorwärts… Vorwärts…


  In this dingy cafe
  The old men sit muffled in woollens.
  Everything is faded, shabby, colorless, old…
  The chairs, loose-jointed,
  Creaking like old bones—
  The tables, the waiters, the walls,
  Whose mottled plaster
  Blends in one tone with the old flesh.

  Young life and young thought are alike barred,
  And no unheralded noises jolt old nerves,
  And old wheezy breaths
  Pass around old thoughts, dry as snuff,
  And there is no divergence and no friction
  Because life is flattened and ground as by many mills.

  And it is here the Committee—
  Sweet-breathed and smooth of skin
  And supple of spine and knee,
  With shining unpouched eyes
  And the blood, high-powered,
  Leaping in flexible arteries—
  The insolent, young, enthusiastic, undiscriminating Committee,
  Who would placard tombstones
  And scatter leaflets even in graves,
  Comes trampling with sacrilegious feet!

  The old men turn stiffly,
  Mumbling to each other.
  They are gentle and torpid and busy with eating.
  But one lifts a face of clayish pallor,
  There is a dull fury in his eyes, like little rusty grates.
  He rises slowly,
  Trembling in his many swathings like an awakened mummy,
  Ridiculous yet terrible.
  —And the Committee flings him a waste glance,
  Dropping a leaflet by his plate.

  A lone fire flickers in the dusty eyes.
  The lips chant inaudibly.
  The warped shrunken body straightens like a tree.
  And he curses…
  With uplifted arms and perished fingers,
  Claw-like, clutching…
  So centuries ago
  The old men cursed Acosta,
  When they, prophetic, heard upon their sepulchres
  Those feet that may not halt nor turn aside for ancient things.


  Here in this room, bare like a barn,
  Egos gesture one to the other—
  Naked, unformed, unwinged
  Egos out of the shell,
  Examining, searching, devouring—
  Avid alike for the flower or the dung…
  (Having no dainty antennae for the touch and withdrawal—
  Only the open maw…)

  Egos cawing,
  Expanding in the mean egg…
  Little squat tailors with unkempt faces,
  Pale as lard,
  Fur-makers, factory-hands, shop-workers,
  News-boys with battling eyes
  And bodies yet vibrant with the momentum of long runs,
  Here and there a woman…

  Words, words, words,
  Pattering like hail,
  Like hail falling without aim…
  Egos rampant,
  Screaming each other down.
  One motions perpetually,
  Waving arms like overgrowths.
  He has burning eyes and a cough
  And a thin voice piping
  Like a flute among trombones.

  One, red-bearded, rearing
  A welter of maimed face bashed in from some old wound,
  Garbles Max Stirner.
  His words knock each other like little wooden blocks.
  No one heeds him,
  And a lank boy with hair over his eyes
  Pounds upon the table.
  —He is chairman.

  Egos yet in the primer,
  Hearing world-voices
  Chanting grand arias…
  Majors resonant,
  Stunning with sound…
  Baffling minors
  Half-heard like rain on pools…
  Majestic discordances
  Greater than harmonies…
  —Gleaning out of it all
  Passion, bewilderment, pain…

  Egos yearning with the world-old want in their eyes—
  Hurt hot eyes that do not sleep enough…
  Striving with infinite effort,
  Frustrate yet ever pursuing
  The great white Liberty,
  Trailing her dissolving glory over each hard-won barricade—
  Only to fade anew…

  Egos crying out of unkempt deeps
  And waving their dreams like flags—
  Multi-colored dreams,
  Winged and glorious…

  A gas jet throws a stunted flame,
  Vaguely illumining the groping faces.
  And through the uncurtained window
  Falls the waste light of stars,
  As cold as wise men's eyes…
  Indifferent great stars,
  Fortuitously glancing
  At the secret meeting in this shut-in room,
  Bare as a manger.


  Lights go out
  And the stark trunks of the factories
  Melt into the drawn darkness,
  Sheathing like a seamless garment.

  And mothers take home their babies,
  Waxen and delicately curled,
  Like little potted flowers closed under the stars.

  Lights go out
  And the young men shut their eyes,
  But life turns in them…

  Life in the cramped ova
  Tearing and rending asunder its living cells…
  Wars, arts, discoveries, rebellions, travails, immolations,
       cataclysms, hates…
  Pent in the shut flesh.
  And the young men twist on their beds in languor and dizziness
  Their eyes—heavy and dimmed
  With dust of long oblivions in the gray pulp behind—
  Staring as through a choked glass.
  And they gaze at the moon—throwing off a faint heat—
  The moon, blond and burning, creeping to their cots
  Softly, as on naked feet…
  Lolling on the coverlet… like a woman offering her white body.

  Nude glory of the moon!
  That leaps like an athlete on the bosoms of the young girls stripped
       of their linens;
  Stroking their breasts that are smooth and cool as mother-of-pearl
  Till the nipples tingle and burn as though little lips plucked at them.
  They shudder and grow faint.
  And their ears are filled as with a delirious rhapsody,
  That Life, like a drunken player,
  Strikes out of their clear white bodies
  As out of ivory keys.

  Lights go out…
  And the great lovers linger in little groups, still passionately debating,
  Or one may walk in silence, listening only to the still summons of Life—
  Life making the great Demand…
  Calling its new Christs…
  Till tears come, blurring the stars
  That grow tender and comforting like the eyes of comrades;
  And the moon rolls behind the Battery
  Like a word molten out of the mouth of God.

  Lights go out…
  And colors rush together,
  Fusing and floating away…
  Pale worn gold like the settings of old jewels…
  Mauves, exquisite, tremulous, and luminous purples
  And burning spires in aureoles of light
  Like shimmering auras.

  They are covering up the pushcarts…
  Now all have gone save an old man with mirrors—
  Little oval mirrors like tiny pools.
  He shuffles up a darkened street
  And the moon burnishes his mirrors till they shine like phosphorus…
  The moon like a skull,
  Staring out of eyeless sockets at the old men trundling home the pushcarts.


  A sallow dawn is in the sky
  As I enter my little green room.
  Sadie's light is still burning…
  Without, the frail moon
  Worn to a silvery tissue,
  Throws a faint glamour on the roofs,
  And down the shadowy spires
  Lights tip-toe out…
  Softly as when lovers close street doors.

  Out of the Battery
  A little wind
  Stirs idly—as an arm
  Trails over a boat's side in dalliance—
  Rippling the smooth dead surface of the heat,
  And Hester street,
  Like a forlorn woman over-born
  By many babies at her teats,
  Turns on her trampled bed to meet the day.

  Startling, vigorous life,
  That squirms under my touch,
  And baffles me when I try to examine it,
  Or hurls me back without apology.
  Leaving my ego ruffled and preening itself.

  Articulate, shrill,
  Screaming in provocative assertion,
  Or out of the black and clotted gutters,
  Piping in silvery thin
  Sweet staccato
  Of children's laughter,

  Or clinging over the pushcarts
  Like a litter of tiny bells
  Or the jingle of silver coins,
  Perpetually changing hands,
  Or like the Jordan somberly
  Swirling in tumultuous uncharted tides,

  Electric currents of life,
  Throwing off thoughts like sparks,
  Glittering, disappearing,
  Making unknown circuits,
  Or out of spent particles stirring
  Feeble contortions in old faiths
  Passing before the new.

  Long nights argued away
  In meeting halls
  Back of interminable stairways—
  In Roumanian wine-shops
  And little Russian tea-rooms…

  Feet echoing through deserted streets
  In the soft darkness before dawn…
  Brows aching, throbbing, burning—
  Life leaping in the shaken flesh
  Like flame at an asbestos curtain.

  Pent, overflowing
  Stoops and façades,
  Jostling, pushing, contriving,
  Seething as in a great vat…

  Bartering, changing, extorting,
  Dreaming, debating, aspiring,
  Astounding, indestructible
  Life of the Ghetto…

  Strong flux of life,
  Like a bitter wine
  Out of the bloody stills of the world…
  Out of the Passion eternal.



  Out of the night you burn, Manhattan,
  In a vesture of gold—
  Span of innumerable arcs,
  Flaring and multiplying—
  Gold at the uttermost circles fading
  Into the tenderest hint of jade,
  Or fusing in tremulous twilight blues,
  Robing the far-flung offices,
  Scintillant-storied, forking flame,
  Or soaring to luminous amethyst
  Over the steeples aureoled—

  Diaphanous gold,
  Veiling the Woolworth, argently
  Rising slender and stark
  Mellifluous-shrill as a vender's cry,
  And towers squatting graven and cold
  On the velvet bales of the dark,
  And the Singer's appraising
  Indolent idol's eye,
  And night like a purple cloth unrolled—

  Nebulous gold
  Throwing an ephemeral glory about life's vanishing points,
  Wherein you burn…
  You of unknown voltage
  Whirling on your axis…
  Scrawling vermillion signatures
  Over the night's velvet hoarding…
  Insolent, towering spherical
  To apices ever shifting.


  Innumerable ions of light,
  Kindling, irradiating,
  All to their foci tending…

  Light that jingles like anklet chains
  On bevies of little lithe twinkling feet,
  Or clingles in myriad vibrations
  Like trillions of porcelain
  Vases shattering…

  Light over the laminae of roofs,
  Diffusing in shimmering nebulae
  About the night's boundaries,
  Or billowing in pearly foam
  Submerging the low-lying stars…

  Light for the feast prolonged—
  Captive light in the goblets quivering…
  Sparks evanescent
  Struck of meeting looks—
  Fringed eyelids leashing
  Sheathed and leaping lights…
  Infinite bubbles of light
  Bursting, reforming…
  Silvery filings of light
  Incessantly falling…
  Scintillant, sided dust of light
  Out of the white flares of Broadway—
  Like a great spurious diamond
  In the night's corsage faceted…

  In ambuscades of light,
  Drawing the charmed multitudes
  With the slow suction of her breath—
  Dangling her naked soul
  Behind the blinding gold of eunuch lights
  That wind about her like a bodyguard.

  Or like a huge serpent, iridescent-scaled,
  Trailing her coruscating length
  Over the night prostrate—
  Triumphant poised,
  Her hydra heads above the avenues,
  Values appraising
  And her avid eyes
  Glistening with eternal watchfulness…

  Out of her towers rampant,
  Like an unsubtle courtezan
  Reserving nought for some adventurous night.


  Crass rays streaming from the vestibules;
  Cafes glittering like jeweled teeth;
  High-flung signs
  Blinking yellow phosphorescent eyes;
  Girls in black
  Circling monotonously
  About the orange lights…

  Nothing to guess at…
  Save the darkness above
  Crouching like a great cat.

  In the dim-lit square,
  Where dishevelled trees
  Tustle with the wind—the wind like a scythe
  Mowing their last leaves—
  Arcs shimmering through a greenish haze—
  Pale oval arcs
  Like ailing virgins,
  Each out of a halo circumscribed,
  Pallidly staring…

  Figures drift upon the benches
  With no more rustle than a dropped leaf settling—
  Slovenly figures like untied parcels,
  And papers wrapped about their knees
  Huddled one to the other,
  Cringing to the wind—
  The sided wind,
  Leaving no breach untried…

  So many and all so still…
  The fountain slobbering its stone basin
  Is louder than They—
  Flotsam of the five oceans
  Here on this raft of the world.

  This old man's head
  Has found a woman's shoulder.
  The wind juggles with her shawl
  That flaps about them like a sail,
  And splashes her red faded hair
  Over the salt stubble of his chin.
  A light foam is on his lips,
  As though dreams surged in him
  Breaking and ebbing away…
  And the bare boughs shuffle above him
  And the twigs rattle like dice…

  She—diffused like a broken beetle—
  Sprawls without grace,
  Her face gray as asphalt,
  Her jaws sagging as on loosened hinges…
  Shadows ply about her mouth—
  Nimble shadows out of the jigging tree,
  That dances above her its dance of dry bones.


  A uniformed front,
  A glance like a blow,
  The swing of an arm,
  Verved, vigorous;
  Boot-heels clanking
  In metallic rhythm;
  The blows of a baton,
  Quick, staccato…

  —There is a rustling along the benches
  As of dried leaves raked over…
  And the old man lifts a shaking palsied hand,
  Tucking the displaced paper about his knees.

  And a frost under foot,
  Acid, corroding,
  Eating through worn bootsoles.

  Drab forms blur into greenish vapor.
  Through boughs like cross-bones,
  Pale arcs flare and shiver
  Like lilies in a wind.

  High over Broadway
  A far-flung sign
  Glitters in indigo darkness
  And spurts again rhythmically,
  Spraying great drops
  Red as a hemorrhage.


  A spring wind on the Bowery,
  Blowing the fluff of night shelters
  Off bedraggled garments,
  And agitating the gutters, that eject little spirals of vapor
  Like lewd growths.

  Bare-legged children stamp in the puddles, splashing each other,
  One—with a choir-boy's face
  Twits me as I pass…
  The word, like a muddied drop,
  Seems to roll over and not out of
  The bowed lips,
  Yet dewy red
  And sweetly immature.

  People sniff the air with an upward look—
  Even the mite of a girl
  Who never plays…
  Her mother smiles at her
  With eyes like vacant lots
  Rimming vistas of mean streets
  And endless washing days…
  Yet with sun on the lines
  And a drying breeze.

  The old candy woman
  Shivers in the young wind.
  Her eyes—littered with memories
  Like ancient garrets,
  Or dusty unaired rooms where someone died—
  Ask nothing of the spring.

  But a pale pink dream
  Trembles about this young girl's body,
  Draping it like a glowing aura.

  She gloats in a mirror
  Over her gaudy hat,
  With its flower God never thought of…

  And the dream, unrestrained,
  Floats about the loins of a soldier,
  Where it quivers a moment,
  Warming to a crimson
  Like the scarf of a toreador…

  But the delicate gossamer breaks at his contact
  And recoils to her in strands of shattered rose.


  Drab discoloration
  Of faces, façades, pawn-shops,
  Second-hand clothing,
  Smoky and fly-blown glass of lunch-rooms,
  Odors of rancid life…

  Deadly uniformity
  Of eyes and windows
  Alike devoid of light…
  Holes wherein life scratches—
  Mangy life
  Nosing to the gutter's end…

  Show-rooms and mimic pillars
  Flaunting out of their gaudy vestibules
  Bosoms and posturing thighs…

  Over all the Elevated
  Droning like a bloated fly.


       Undulant rustlings,
       Of oncoming silk,
       Rhythmic, incessant,
       Like the motion of leaves…
       Fragments of color
       In glowing surprises…
       Pink inuendoes
       Hooded in gray
       Like buds in a cobweb
       Pearled at dawn…
       Glimpses of green
       And blurs of gold
       And delicate mauves
       That snatch at youth…
       And bodies all rosily
       Fleshed for the airing,
       In warm velvety surges
       Passing imperious, slow…

  Women drift into the limousines
  That shut like silken caskets
  On gems half weary of their glittering…
  Lamps open like pale moon flowers…
  Arcs are radiant opals
  Strewn along the dusk…
  No common lights invade.
  And spires rise like litanies—
  Magnificats of stone
  Over the white silence of the arcs,
  Burning in perpetual adoration.


  Out of the lamp-bestarred and clouded dusk—
  Snaring, illuding, concealing,
  Magically conjuring—
  Turning to fairy-coaches
  Beetle-backed limousines
  Scampering under the great Arch—
  Making a decoy of blue overalls
  And mystery of a scarlet shawl—
  Knowing no impediment of its sure advance—
  Descends the fog.


  A late snow beats
  With cold white fists upon the tenements—
  Hurriedly drawing blinds and shutters,
  Like tall old slatterns
  Pulling aprons about their heads.

  Lights slanting out of Mott Street
  Gibber out,
  Or dribble through bar-room slits,
  Anonymous shapes
  Conniving behind shuttered panes
  Caper and disappear…
  Where the Bowery
  Is throbbing like a fistula
  Back of her ice-scabbed fronts.

  Livid faces
  Glimmer in furtive doorways,
  Or spill out of the black pockets of alleys,
  Smears of faces like muddied beads,
  Making a ghastly rosary
  The night mumbles over
  And the snow with its devilish and silken whisper…
  Patrolling arcs
  Blowing shrill blasts over the Bread Line
  Stalk them as they pass,
  Silent as though accouched of the darkness,
  And the wind noses among them,
       Like a skunk
  That roots about the heart…

  And the Elevated slams upon the silence
  Like a ponderous door.
  Then all is still again,
  Save for the wind fumbling over
  The emptily swaying faces—
  The wind rummaging
  Like an old Jew…

  Faces in glimmering rows…
  (No sign of the abject life—
  Not even a blasphemy…)
  But the spindle legs keep time
  To a limping rhythm,
  And the shadows twitch upon the snow
  As though death played
  With some ungainly dolls.



  I love those spirits
  That men stand off and point at,
  Or shudder and hood up their souls—
  Those ruined ones,
  Where Liberty has lodged an hour
  And passed like flame,
  Bursting asunder the too small house.


  I would be a torch unto your hand,
  A lamp upon your forehead, Labor,
  In the wild darkness before the Dawn
  That I shall never see…

  We shall advance together, my Beloved,
  Awaiting the mighty ushering…
  Together we shall make the last grand charge
  And ride with gorgeous Death
  With all her spangles on
  And cymbals clashing…
  And you shall rush on exultant as I fall—
  Scattering a brief fire about your feet…

  Let it be so…
  Better—while life is quick
  And every pain immense and joy supreme,
  And all I have and am
  Flames upward to the dream…
  Than like a taper forgotten in the dawn,
  Burning out the wick.


  Not yet hast Thou sounded
  Thy clangorous music,
  Whose strings are under the mountains…
  Not yet hast Thou spoken
  The blooded, implacable Word…

  But I hear in the Iron singing—
  In the triumphant roaring of the steam and pistons pounding—
  Thy barbaric exhortation…
  And the blood leaps in my arteries, unreproved,
  Answering Thy call…
  All my spirit is inundated with the tumultuous passion of Thy Voice,
  And sings exultant with the Iron,
  For now I know I too am of Thy Chosen…

  Oh fashioned in fire—
  Needing flame for Thy ultimate word—
  Behold me, a cupola
  Poured to Thy use!

  Heed not my tremulous body
  That faints in the grip of Thy gauntlet.
  Break it… and cast it aside…
  But make of my spirit
  That dares and endures
  Thy crucible…
  Pour through my soul
  Thy molten, world-whelming song.

  … Here at Thy uttermost gate
  Like a new Mary, I wait…


  Charge the blast furnace, workman…
  Open the valves—
  Drive the fires high…
  (Night is above the gates).

  How golden-hot the ore is
  From the cupola spurting,
  Tossing the flaming petals
  Over the silt and furnace ash—
  Blown leaves, devastating,
  Falling about the world…

  Out of the furnace mouth—
  Out of the giant mouth—
  The raging, turgid, mouth—
  Fall fiery blossoms
  Gold with the gold of buttercups
  In a field at sunset,
  Or huskier gold of dandelions,
  Warmed in sun-leavings,
  Or changing to the paler hue
  At the creamy hearts of primroses.

  Charge the converter, workman—
  Tired from the long night?
  But the earth shall suck up darkness—
  The earth that holds so much…
  And out of these molten flowers,
  Shall shape the heavy fruit…

  Then open the valves—
  Drive the fires high,
  Your blossoms nurturing.
  (Day is at the gates
  And a young wind…)

  Put by your rod, comrade,
  And look with me, shading your eyes…
  Do you not see—
  Through the lucent haze
  Out of the converter rising—
  In the spirals of fire
  Smiting and blinding,
  A shadowy shape
  White as a flame of sacrifice,
  Like a lily swaying?


  The ore leaping in the crucibles,
  The ore communicant,
  Sending faint thrills along the leads…
  Fire is running along the roots of the mountains…
  I feel the long recoil of earth
  As under a mighty quickening…
  (Dawn is aglow in the light of the Iron…)
  All palpitant, I wait…


  Here ye, Dictators—late Lords of the Iron,
  Shut in your council rooms, palsied, depowered—
  The blooded, implacable Word?
  Not whispered in cloture, one to the other,
  (Brother in fear of the fear of his brother…)
  But chanted and thundered
  On the brazen, articulate tongues of the Iron
  Babbling in flame…

  Sung to the rhythm of prisons dismantled,
  Manacles riven and ramparts defaced…
  (Hearts death-anointed yet hearing life calling…)
  Ankle chains bursting and gallows unbraced…

  Sung to the rhythm of arsenals burning…
  Clangor of iron smashing on iron,
  Turmoil of metal and dissonant baying
  Of mail-sided monsters shattered asunder…

  Hulks of black turbines all mangled and roaring,
  Battering egress through ramparted walls…
  Mouthing of engines, made rabid with power,
  Into the holocaust snorting and plunging…

  Mighty converters torn from their axis,
  Flung to the furnaces, vomiting fire,
  Jumbled in white-heaten masses disshapen…
  Writhing in flame-tortured levers of iron…

  Gnashing of steel serpents twisting and dying…
  Screeching of steam-glutted cauldrons rending…
  Shock of leviathans prone on each other…
  Scaled flanks touching, ore entering ore…
  Steel haunches closing and grappling and swaying
  In the waltz of the mating locked mammoths of iron,
  Tasting the turbulent fury of living,
  Mad with a moment's exuberant living!
  Crash of devastating hammers despoiling..
  Hands inexorable, marring
  What hands had so cunningly moulded…

  Structures of steel welded, subtily tempered,
  Marvelous wrought of the wizards of ore,
  Torn into octaves discordantly clashing,
  Chords never final but onward progressing
  In monstrous fusion of sound ever smiting on sound
       in mad vortices whirling…

  Till the ear, tortured, shrieks for cessation
  Of the raving inharmonies hatefully mingling…
  The fierce obligato the steel pipes are screaming…
  The blare of the rude molten music of Iron…


  He walked under the shadow of the Hill
  Where men are fed into the fires
  And walled apart…
  Unarmed and alone,
  He summoned his mates from the pit's mouth
  Where tools rested on the floors
  And great cranes swung
  Unemptied, on the iron girders.
  And they, who were the Lords of the Hill,
  Were seized with a great fear,
  When they heard out of the silence of wheels
  The answer ringing
  In endless reverberations
  Under the mountain…

  So they covered up their faces
  And crept upon him as he slept…
  Out of eye-holes in black cloth
  They looked upon him who had flung
  Between them and their ancient prey
  The frail barricade of his life…
  And when night—that has connived at so much—
  Was heavy with the unborn day,
  They haled him from his bed…

  Who might know of that wild ride?
  Only the bleak Hill—
  The red Hill, vigilant,
  Like a blood-shot eye
  In the black mask of night—
  Dared watch them as they raced
  By each blind-folded street
  Godiva might have ridden down…
  But when they stopped beside the Place,
  I know he turned his face
  Wistfully to the accessory night…

  And when he saw—against the sky,
  Sagged like a silken net
  Under its load of stars—
  The black bridge poised
  Like a gigantic spider motionless…
  I know there was a silence in his heart,
  As of a frozen sea,
  Where some half lifted arm, mid-way
  Wavers, and drops heavily…

  I know he waved to life,
  And that life signaled back, transcending space,
  To each high-powered sense,
  So that he missed no gesture of the wind
  Drawing the shut leaves close…
  So that he saw the light on comrades' faces
  Of camp fires out of sight…
  And the savor of meat and bread
  Blew in his nostrils… and the breath
  Of unrailed spaces
  Where shut wild clover smelled as sweet
  As a virgin in her bed.

  I know he looked once at America,
  Quiescent, with her great flanks on the globe,
  And once at the skies whirling above him…
  Then all that he had spoken against
  And struck against and thrust against
  Over the frail barricade of his life
  Rushed between him and the stars…


  Life thunders on…
  Over the black bridge
  The line of lighted cars
  Creeps like a monstrous serpent
  Spooring gold…

Watchman, what of the track?

  Night… silence… stars…
  All's Well!


  (Breaking mists…
  Hills gliding like hands out of a slipping hold…)
  Light over the pit mouths,
  Streaming in tenuous rays down the black gullets of the Hill…
  (The copper, insensate, sleeping in the buried lode.)
  Forcing the clogged windows of arsenals…
  Probing with long sentient fingers in the copper chips…
  Gleaming metallic and cold
  In numberless slivers of steel…
  Light over the trestles and the iron clips
  Of the black bridge—poised like a gigantic spider motionless—
  Sweet inquisition of light, like a child's wonder…
  Intrusive, innocently staring light
  That nothing appals…

  Light in the slow fumbling summer leaves,
  Cooing and calling
  All winged and avid things
  Waking the early flies, keen to the scent…
  Green-jeweled iridescent flies
  Unerringly steering—
  Swarming over the blackened lips,
  The young day sprays with indiscriminate gold…

Watchman, what of the Hill?

  Wheels turn;
  The laden cars
  Go rumbling to the mill,
  And Labor walks beside the mules…
  All's Well with the Hill!


  Spires of Grace Church,
  For you the workers of the world
  Travailed with the mountains…
  Aborting their own dreams
  Till the dream of you arose—
  Beautiful, swaddled in stone—
  Scorning their hands.


  They pass through the great iron gates—
  Men with eyes gravely discerning,
  Skilled to appraise the tunnage of cranes
  Or split an inch into thousandths—
  Men tempered by fire as the ore is
  And planned to resistance
  Like steel that has cooled in the trough;
  Silent of purpose, inflexible, set to fulfilment—
  To conquer, withstand, overthrow…
  Men mannered to large undertakings,
  Knowing force as a brother
  And power as something to play with,
  Seeing blood as a slip of the iron,
  To be wiped from the tools
  Lest they rust.

  But what if they stood aside,
  Who hold the earth so careless in the crook of their arms?

  What of the flamboyant cities
  And the lights guttering out like candles in a wind…
  And the armies halted…
  And the train mid-way on the mountain
  And idle men chaffing across the trenches…
  And the cursing and lamentation
  And the clamor for grain shut in the mills of the world?
  What if they stayed apart,
  Inscrutably smiling,
  Leaving the ground encumbered with dead wire
  And the sea to row-boats
  And the lands marooned—
  Till Time should like a paralytic sit,
  A mildewed hulk above the nations squatting?


  What of the silence of the keys
  And silvery hands? The iron sings…
  Though bows lie broken on the strings,
  The fly-wheels turn eternally…

  Bring fuel—drive the fires high…
  Throw all this artist-lumber in
  And foolish dreams of making things…
  (Ten million men are called to die.)

  As for the common men apart,
  Who sweat to keep their common breath,
  And have no hour for books or art—
  What dreams have these to hide from death!


  Not your martyrs anointed of heaven—
       The ages are red where they trod—
  But the Hunted—the world's bitter leaven—
       Who smote at your imbecile God—

  A being to pander and fawn to,
       To propitiate, flatter and dread
  As a thing that your souls are in pawn to,
       A Dealer who traffics the dead;

  A Trader with greed never sated,
       Who barters the souls in his snares,
  That were trapped in the lusts he created,
       For incense and masses and prayers—

  They are crushed in the coils of your halters;
       'Twere well—by the creeds ye have nursed—
  That ye send up a cry from your altars,
       A mass for the Martyrs Accursed;

  A passionate prayer from reprieval
       For the Brotherhood not understood—
  For the Heroes who died for the evil,
       Believing the evil was good.

  To the Breakers, the Bold, the Despoilers,
       Who dreamed of a world over-thrown…
  They who died for the millions of toilers—
       Few—fronting the nations alone!

  —To the Outlawed of men and the Branded,
       Whether hated or hating they fell—
  I pledge the devoted, red-handed,
       Unfaltering Heroes of Hell!



  It is dark… so dark, I remember the sun on Chios…
  It is still… so still, I hear the beat of our paddles on the Aegean…

  Ten times we had watched the moon
  Rise like a thin white virgin out of the waters
  And round into a full maternity…
  For thrice ten moons we had touched no flesh
  Save the man flesh on either hand
  That was black and bitter and salt and scaled by the sea.

  The Athenian boy sat on my left…
  His hair was yellow as corn steeped in wine…
  And on my right was Phildar the Carthaginian,
  Grinning Phildar
  With his mouth pulled taut as by reins from his black gapped teeth.
  Many a whip had coiled about him
  And his shoulders were rutted deep as wet ground under chariot wheels,
  And his skin was red and tough as a bull's hide cured in the sun.
  He did not sing like the other slaves,
  But when a big wind came up he screamed with it.
  And always he looked out to sea,
  Save when he tore at his fish ends
  Or spat across me at the Greek boy, whose mouth was red and apart
       like an opened fruit.

  We had rowed from dawn and the green galley hard at our stern.
  She was green and squat and skulked close to the sea.
  All day the tish of their paddles had tickled our ears,
  And when night came on
  And little naked stars dabbled in the water
  And half the crouching moon
  Slid over the silver belly of the sea thick-scaled with light,
  We heard them singing at their oars…
  We who had no breath for song.

  There was no sound in our boat
  Save the clingle of wrist chains
  And the sobbing of the young Greek.
  I cursed him that his hair blew in my mouth, tasting salt of the sea…
  I cursed him that his oar kept ill time…
  When he looked at me I cursed him again,
  That his eyes were soft as a woman's.

  How long… since their last shell gouged our batteries?
  How long… since we rose at aim with a sleuth moon astern?
  (It was the damned green moon that nosed us out…
  The moon that flushed our periscope till it shone like a silver flame…)

  They loosed each man's right hand
  As the galley spent on our decks…
  And amazed and bloodied we reared half up
  And fought askew with the left hand shackled…
  But a zigzag fire leapt in our sockets
  And knotted our thews like string…
  Our thews grown stiff as a crooked spine that would not straighten…

  How long… since our gauges fell
  And the sea shoved us under?
  It is dark… so dark…
  Darkness presses hairy-hot
  Where three make crowded company…
  And the rank steel smells….
  It is still… so still…
  I seem to hear the wind
  On the dimpled face of the water fathoms above…

  It was still… so still… we three that were left alive
  Stared in each other's faces…
  But three make bitter company at one man's bread…
  And our hate grew sharp and bright as the moon's edge in the water.

  One grinned with his mouth awry from the long gapped teeth…
  And one shivered and whined like a gull as the waves pawed us over…
  But one struck with his hate in his hand…

  After that I remember
  Only the dead men's oars that flapped in the sea…
  The dead men's oars that rattled and clicked like idiots' tongues.

  It is still… so still, with the jargon of engines quiet.
  We three awaiting the crunch of the sea
  Reach our hands in the dark and touch each other's faces…
  We three sheathing hate in our hearts…
  But when hate shall have made its circuit,
  Our bones will be loving company
  Here in the sea's den…
  And one whimpers and cries on his God
  And one sits sullenly
  But both draw away from me…
  For I am the pyre their memories burn on…
  Like black flames leaping
  Our fiery gestures light the walled-in darkness of the sea…
  The sea that kneels above us…
  And makes no sign.


  Old plant of Asia—
  Mutilated vine
  Holding earth's leaping sap
  In every stem and shoot
  That lopped off, sprouts again—
  Why should you seek a plateau walled about,
  Whose garden is the world?


  That day, in the slipping of torsos and straining flanks
       on the bloodied ooze of fields plowed by the iron,
  And the smoke bluish near earth and bronze in the sunshine
       floating like cotton-down,
  And the harsh and terrible screaming,
  And that strange vibration at the roots of us…
  Desire, fierce, like a song…
  And we heard
  (Do you remember?)
  All the Red Cross bands on Fifth avenue
  And bugles in little home towns
  And children's harmonicas bleating


  And after…
  (Do you remember?)
  The drollery of the wind on our faces,
  And horizons reeling,
  And the terror of the plain
  Heaving like a gaunt pelvis to the sun…
  Under us—threshing and twanging
  Torn-up roots of the Song…


  I see you, refulgent ones,
  Burning so steadily
  Like big white arc lights…
  There are so many of you.
  I like to watch you weaving—
  Altogether and with precision
  Each his ray—
  Your tracery of light,
  Making a shining way about America.

  I note your infinite reactions—
  In glassware
  And sequin
  And puddles
  And bits of jet—
  And here and there a diamond…

  But you do not yet see me,
  Who am a torch blown along the wind,
  Flickering to a spark
  But never out.


  Oh, God did cunningly, there at Babel—
  Not mere tongues dividing, but soul from soul,
  So that never again should men be able
  To fashion one infinite, towering whole.


  In a little Hungarian cafe
  Men and women are drinking
  Yellow wine in tall goblets.

  Through the milky haze of the smoke,
  The fiddler, under-sized, blond,
  Leans to his violin
  As to the breast of a woman.
  Red hair kindles to fire
  On the black of his coat-sleeve,
  Where his white thin hand
  Trembles and dives,
  Like a sliver of moonlight,
  When wind has broken the water.


  Wind, just arisen—
  (Off what cool mattress of marsh-moss
  In tented boughs leaf-drawn before the stars,
  Or niche of cliff under the eagles?)
  You of living things,
  So gay and tender and full of play—
  Why do you blow on my thoughts—like cut flowers
  Gathered and laid to dry on this paper, rolled out of dead wood?

  I see you
  Shaking that flower at me with soft invitation
  And frisking away,
  Deliciously rumpling the grass…

  So you fluttered the curtains about my cradle,
  Prattling of fields
  Before I had had my milk…
  Did I stir on my pillow, making to follow you, Fleet One?
  I—swaddled, unwinged, like a bird in the egg.

  Let be
  My dreams that crackle under your breath…
  You have the dust of the world to blow on…
  Do not tag me and dance away, looking back…
  I am too old to play with you,
  Eternal Child.


  I love you, malcontent
  Male wind—
  Shaking the pollen from a flower
  Or hurling the sea backward from the grinning sand.

  Blow on and over my dreams…
  Scatter my sick dreams…
  Throw your lusty arms about me…
  Envelop all my hot body…
  Carry me to pine forests—
  Great, rough-bearded forests…
  Bring me to stark plains and steppes…
  I would have the North to-night—
  The cold, enduring North.

  And if we should meet the Snow,
  Whirling in spirals,
  And he should blind my eyes…
  Ally, you will defend me—
  You will hold me close,
  Blowing on my eyelids.


  I am of the wind…
  A wisp of the battering wind…

  I trail my fingers along the Alps
  And an avalanche falls in my wake…
  I feel in my quivering length
  When it buries the hamlet beneath…

  I hurriedly sweep aside
  The cities that clutter our path…
  As we whirl about the circle of the globe…
  As we tear at the pillars of the world…
  Open to the wind,
  The Destroyer!
  The wind that is battering at your gates.


  Rock-a-by baby, woolly and brown…
  (There's a shout at the door an' a big red light…)
  Lil' coon baby, mammy is down…
  Han's that hold yuh are steady an' white…

  Look piccaninny—such a gran' blaze
  Lickin' up the roof an' the sticks of home—
  Ever see the like in all yo' days!
  —Cain't yuh sleep, mah bit-of-honey-comb?

  Rock-a-by baby, up to the sky!
  Look at the cherries driftin' by—
  Bright red cherries spilled on the groun'—
  Piping-hot cherries at nuthin' a poun'!

  Hush, mah lil' black-bug—doan yuh weep.
  Daddy's run away an' mammy's in a heap
  By her own fron' door in the blazin' heat
  Outah the shacks like warts on the street…

  An' the singin' flame an' the gleeful crowd
  Circlin' aroun'… won't mammy be proud!
  With a stone at her hade an' a stone on her heart,
  An' her mouth like a red plum, broken apart…

  See where the blue an' khaki prance,
  Adding brave colors to the dance
  About the big bonfire white folks make—
  Such gran' doin's fo' a lil' coon's sake!

  Hear all the eagah feet runnin' in town—
  See all the willin' han's reach outah night—
  Han's that are wonderful, steady an' white!
  To toss up a lil' babe, blinkin' an' brown…

  Rock-a-by baby—higher an' higher!
  Mammy is sleepin' an' daddy's run lame…
  (Soun' may yuh sleep in yo' cradle o' fire!)
  Rock-a-by baby, hushed in the flame…

(An incident of the East St. Louis Race Riots, when some white women flung a living colored baby into the heart of a blazing fire.)


  Snow wraiths circle us
  Like washers of the dead,
  Flapping their white wet cloths
  About the grizzled head,
  Where the coarse hair mats like grass,
  And the efficient wind
  With cold professional baste
  Probes like a lancet
  Through the cotton shirt…

  About us are white cliffs and space.
  No façades show,
  Nor roof nor any spire…
  All sheathed in snow…
  The parasitic snow
  That clings about them like a blight.

  Only detached lights
  Float hazily like greenish moons,
  And endlessly
  Down the whore-street,
  Accouched and comforted and sleeping warm,
  The blizzard waltzes with the night.


  The woman with jewels sits in the cafe,
  Spraying light like a fountain.
  Diamonds glitter on her bulbous fingers
  And on her arms, great as thighs,
  Diamonds gush from her ear-lobes over the goitrous throat.
  She is obesely beautiful.
  Her eyes are full of bleared lights,
  Like little pools of tar, spilled by a sailor in mad haste for shore…
  And her mouth is scarlet and full—only a little crumpled—
       like a flower that has been pressed apart…

  Why does she come alone to this obscure basement—
  She who should have a litter and hand-maidens to support her
       on either side?

  She ascends the stairway, and the waiters turn to look at her,
       spilling the soup.
  The black satin dress is a little lifted, showing the dropsical legs
       in their silken fleshings…
  The mountainous breasts tremble…
  There is an agitation in her gems,
  That quiver incessantly, emitting trillions of fiery rays…
  She erupts explosive breaths…
  Every step is an adventure
  From this…
  The serpent's tooth
  Saved Cleopatra.


  I have known only my own shallows—
  Safe, plumbed places,
  Where I was wont to preen myself.

  But for the abyss
  I wanted a plank beneath
  And horizons…

  I was afraid of the silence
  And the slipping toe-hold…

  Oh, could I now dive
  Into the unexplored deeps of me—
  Delve and bring up and give
  All that is submerged, encased, unfolded,
  That is yet the best.


  When Art goes bounding, lean,
  Up hill-tops fired green
  To pluck a rose for life.

  Life like a broody hen
  Cluck-clucks him back again.

  But when Art, imbecile,
  Sits old and chill
  On sidings shaven clean,
  And counts his clustering
  Dead daisies on a string
  With witless laughter….

  Then like a new Jill
  Toiling up a hill
  Life scrambles after.


  Pythoness body—arching
  Over the night like an ecstasy—
  I feel your coils tightening…
  And the world's lessening breath.


  Men die…
  Dreams only change their houses.
  They cannot be lined up against a wall
  And quietly buried under ground,
  And no more heard of…
  However deep the pit and heaped the clay—
  Like seedlings of old time
  Hooding a sacred rose under the ice cap of the world—
  Dreams will to light.


  The old men of the world have made a fire
  To warm their trembling hands.
  They poke the young men in.
  The young men burn like withes.

  If one run a little way,
  The old men are wrath.
  They catch him and bind him and throw him again to the flames.
  Green withes burn slow…
  And the smoke of the young men's torment
  Rises round and sheer as the trunk of a pillared oak,
  And the darkness thereof spreads over the sky….

  Green withes burn slow…
  And the old men of the world sit round the fire
  And rub their hands….
  But the smoke of the young men's torment
  Ascends up for ever and ever.


  I remember
  The crackle of the palm trees
  Over the mooned white roofs of the town…
  The shining town…
  And the tender fumbling of the surf
  On the sulphur-yellow beaches
  As we sat… a little apart… in the close-pressing night.

  The moon hung above us like a golden mango,
  And the moist air clung to our faces,
  Warm and fragrant as the open mouth of a child
  And we watched the out-flung sea
  Rolling to the purple edge of the world,
  Yet ever back upon itself…
  As we…

  Inadequate night…
  And mooned white memory
  Of a tropic sea…
  How softly it comes up
  Like an ungathered lily.


  I thought to die that night in the solitude where they would never find me…
  But there was time…
  And I lay quietly on the drawn knees of the mountain,
       staring into the abyss…
  I do not know how long…
  I could not count the hours, they ran so fast
  Like little bare-foot urchins—shaking my hands away…
  But I remember
  Somewhere water trickled like a thin severed vein…
  And a wind came out of the grass,
  Touching me gently, tentatively, like a paw.

  As the night grew
  The gray cloud that had covered the sky like sackcloth
  Fell in ashen folds about the hills,
  Like hooded virgins, pulling their cloaks about them…
  There must have been a spent moon,
  For the Tall One's veil held a shimmer of silver…

  That too I remember…
  And the tenderly rocking mountain
  And beating stars…

  Lay like a waxen hand upon the world,
  And folded hills
  Broke into a sudden wonder of peaks, stemming clear and cold,
  Till the Tall One bloomed like a lily,
  Flecked with sun,
  Fine as a golden pollen—
  It seemed a wind might blow it from the snow.

  I smelled the raw sweet essences of things,
  And heard spiders in the leaves
  And ticking of little feet,
  As tiny creatures came out of their doors
  To see God pouring light into his star…

  … It seemed life held
  No future and no past but this…

  And I too got up stiffly from the earth,
  And held my heart up like a cup…


  Bountiful Givers,
  I look along the years
  And see the flowers you threw…
  And sprigs of gray
  Sparse heather of the rocks,
  Or a wild violet
  Or daisy of a daisied field…
  But each your best.

  I might have worn them on my breast
  To wilt in the long day…
  I might have stemmed them in a narrow vase
  And watched each petal sallowing…
  I might have held them so—mechanically—
  Till the wind winnowed all the leaves
  And left upon my hands
  A little smear of dust.

  I hid them in the soft warm loam
  Of a dim shadowed place…
  In a still cool grotto,
  Lit only by the memories of stars
  And the wide and luminous eyes
  Of dead poets
  That love me and that I love…
  Deep… deep…
  Where none may see—not even ye who gave—
  About my soul your garden beautiful.


  There is music in the strong
       Deep-throated bush,
  Whisperings of song
       Heard in the leaves' hush—
  Ballads of the trees
       In tongues unknown—
  A reminiscent tone
       On minor keys…

  Boughs swaying to and fro
       Though no winds pass…
  Faint odors in the grass
       Where no flowers grow,
  And flutterings of wings
       And faint first notes,
  Once babbled on the boughs
       Of faded springs.

  Is it music from the graves
       Of all things fair
  Trembling on the staves
       Of spacious air—
  Fluted by the winds
       Songs with no words—
  Sonatas from the throats
       Of master birds?

  One peering through the husk
       Of darkness thrown
  May hear it in the dusk—
       That ancient tone,
  Silvery as the light
       Of long dead stars
  Yet falling through the night
       In trembling bars.


  Where to-day would a dainty buyer
  Imbibe your scented juice,
  Pale ruin with a heart of fire;
  Drain your succulence with her lips,
  Grown sapless from much use…
  Make minister of her desire
  A chalice cup where no bee sips—
       Where no wasp wanders in?

  Close to her white flesh housed an hour,
       One held you… her spent form
  Drew on yours for its wasted dower—
  What favour could she do you more?
       Yet, of all who drink therein,
       None know it is the warm
  Odorous heart of a ravished flower
  Tingles so in her mouth's red core…


  The ore in the crucible is pungent, smelling like acrid wine,
  It is dusky red, like the ebb of poppies,
  And purple, like the blood of elderberries.
  Surely it is a strong wine—juice distilled of the fierce iron.
  I am drunk of its fumes.
  I feel its fiery flux
  Diffusing, permeating,
  Working some strange alchemy…
  So that I turn aside from the goodly board,
  So that I look askance upon the common cup,
  And from the mouths of crucibles
  Suck forth the acrid sap.


  Tender and tremulous green of leaves
  Turned up by the wind,
  Twanging among the vines—
  Wind in the grass
  Blowing a clear path
  For the new-stripped soul to pass…

  The naked soul in the sunlight…
  Like a wisp of smoke in the sunlight
  On the hill-side shimmering.

  Dance light on the wind, little soul,
  Like a thistle-down floating
  Over the butterflies
  And the lumbering bees…

  Come away from that tree
  And its shadow grey as a stone…

  Bathe in the pools of light
  On the hillside shimmering—
  Shining and wetted and warm in the sun-spray falling like golden rain—

  But do not linger and look
  At that bleak thing under the tree.


  Last night
  I watched a star fall like a great pearl into the sea,
  Till my ego expanding encompassed sea and star,
  Containing both as in a trembling cup.

  (Easter 1916)

  Censored lies that mimic truth…
       Censored truth as pale as fear…
  My heart is like a rousing bell—
       And but the dead to hear…

  My heart is like a mother bird,
       Circling ever higher,
  And the nest-tree rimmed about
       By a forest fire…

  My heart is like a lover foiled
       By a broken stair—
  They are fighting to-night in Sackville Street,
       And I am not there!

End of Project Gutenberg's The Ghetto and Other Poems, by Lola Ridge